Chicago 2017. I’m standing at a bar in Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends club. It’s jam night and I’m watching a local singer – the imperious and rather wonderful Holle Thee Maxwell – wow a crowd that is largely comprised of tourists, such as my good self.
At one point, Holle plugs an upcoming concert, at which she will be playing with members of blues legend, Willie Dixon’s band. As it turns out, several members of that band are in the room, all of them pointed out by Holle.
For a music obsessed traveler, it is a wonderful moment. This is the America of my dreams. A place where you can walk a few blocks, pay a $5 cover charge and find yourself standing at the bar with men and women who are an acknowledged part of musical history. And let’s not forget Holle, herself. A blues, soul an opera singer, she is also part of Chicago’s heritage.
But I live in England, so let’s jump back further in time. I first saw saw Bert Jansch play in the cellar bar of a pub in North West London and a few weeks later in the upstairs room of a another bar in Clapham. On both occasions he played inspiring sets that made me a) want to practice harder and b) encouraged me to buy a Yamaha LD10, just like Bert’s.
Bert was, of course, a musical legend. One of the key figures in the UK folk revival of the 1960s, he was a master musician who has, by now, influenced several generations of musicians. But like many on the folk/blues scene, you might find playing a pub folk club on Wednesday and the Albert Hall on Saturday. He was, in short, not only a guitar genius but also an accessible, jobbing musician. The same could be said for others of his generation, such as Martin Carthy or Steve Tilston.
Close to the Action
The great thing about small pub gigs is that – from the point of view of a guitarist – you can really see what’s going on – or to put it another way, you are close to the action and can clearly see every piece of left hand fingering and right hand technique.
And if you’re lucky, you might also see a real legend at work. To drop another name, I was once luck enough to see former Fleetwood Mac guitarist at a bar in Southampton.
So what am I saying here. Musicians start off in small pubs and club and in some cases that’s where they stay or return to. We live in an age of stadium rock, but small venues are where new music is made and where it can often be seen and heard at its best. So support the heroes next door – the ones that have already earned their place in history and the ones taking their first step in that direction.